SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Coming up, gospel music for the agnostic. But first, in another era you might have slipped a letter into a bottle and tossed it out to sea. But today, if you want to send yourself a message to open sometime in the future, there's a site on the World Wide Web.
It's called FutureMe.org. It was created four years ago by two friends - Matt Sly and Jay Patrikios. Since then nearly 400,000 people have sent messages to their future selves. Matt Sly joins us from New Haven, Connecticut, where he's a graduate student at Yale School of Organization and Management. Mr. Sly, thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. MATT SLY (FutureMe.org): Glad to be here. Thanks.
SIMON: And who sends messages to themselves in the future?
Mr. SLY: Well, a whole bunch of people, apparently. Still, sort of to my and Jay's surprise, there's everything from sort of the trivial thing you'd expect about self improvement and weight loss and finding a new job and saving enough money - to you know, sort of more profound and sad thoughts about losing a loved one or there's several from soldiers who are heading off to Iraq or people that are dealing with an imminent illness.
SIMON: Any rules that you apply?
Mr. SLY: Well, we put a limit on it. This is not a reminder service, so that the minimum that we allow is 30 days into the future. The maximum, which unfortunately not so many people are eager enough to do, is 50 years. So that's for those who ambitious and have faith in these two random guys who started this project on their own spare time, that they should be able to deliver those e-mails in the future.
SIMON: I understand that you have at least one Alzheimer's patient who's been using the service.
Mr. SLY: Yeah, one of the more surprising folks that contacted us was a guy who is suffering from Alzheimer's and is sort of coming to grips with the reality of that disease and writing himself FutureMe letters, trying to - at least artificially - maintain some sense of the past and the future once the disease starts to become more profound.
SIMON: What are the letters you've read that affect you, delight you, amuse you?
Mr. SLY: Sure, let me read a couple.
Hey, FutureMe. Just letting you know that I'm enjoying my youthful vigor, my full-headed hair and my flat belly - before I turn into you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SLY: Here's another one that's kind of interesting.
Dear FutureMe. When you get this and consider your life back at my age, you'll be inclined to be nostalgic. Don't be. It wasn't all that grand. It was fine, but not much more than that. Similarly, as I write this, I'm inclined to think about you and how great you will be and all the things that you will accomplish.
I'm mistaken. You'll be fine, but despite your degree from a fancy college and high SAT scores, you'll not be president or CEO. You'll be somewhat accomplished with a comfortable income, but feeling like you should be doing more for the good of the society. Your mood will ebb and flow just as mine does now. You'll be in decent physical shape, but probably wish you could lose a few pounds, just as I do now. In truth, Future Me, we're not at all that different, are we? Sincerely, Past Me.
SIMON: That's a very nice letter.
Mr. SLY: I'd say on the whole, the sense you get is a little bit of paranoia about what the future holds.
SIMON: If you could find a letter that speaks to that...
Mr. SLY: Dear Future Me, I wish you could come visit me, take me by the hand and tell me that everything is all right. I'm pretty much at rock bottom right now. I lost my job. I lost the love of my life. I had this pain in my back that won't seem to go away. I've hit bottom enough that I'm writing to my future self on a stupid Web site. You can't get much worse than that. I read some other people's entries and they made me cry. I realized that I'm not the only one suffering in the world. I hope things are better now. It is your birthday. Are you doing anything exciting? You better be. Past Me.
SIMON: Mr. Sly, what do you learn about human beings by reading through these messages?
Mr. SLY: Well, it certainly has turned in to a bit of a sociology experiment, I must say. I guess I've learned that we spend a lot of time and energy doing things on behalf of our future selves, and the Future Me is actually a very important person when you think about it. I mean everything from going to school to saving money is really all done on behalf of Future Me. And I think maybe the appeal of the site is that Future Me is sort of our last chance to write and offer explicit instructions to our future selves before we actually become them and it's too late.
SIMON: Matt Sly is co-founder with Jay Patrikios of the Web site, FutureMe.org. He's a student at Yale University School of Organization and Management. Mr. Sly, very nice talking to you.
Mr. SLY: Really appreciate it. Thanks.